Finding the Balance Between My Education and Eating Disorder Recovery

Woman on Laptop
Emily Locke

Emily Locke

My eating disorder has had a significant impact on my life, as most eating disorders do, and it has caused me to miss out on a lot. One of the aspects of my life that has suffered due to my eating disorder is my education. Although I have struggled with food and body image since I was a kid, my eating disorder didn’t begin to fully form until my freshman year of high school.

While my friends were staying focused in order to prepare themselves for college, I was absent for what felt like the majority of the time. Even when I wasn’t in treatment and went to class, I sat there constantly obsessing over food and my body. I could barely concentrate during school, I couldn’t handle the social aspect anymore, and eventually, I got to the point where I felt overpowered by my eating disorder. Once my junior year concluded, I decided that it was in my best interest to pursue my GED.

After I had completed my GED, I realized that instead of jumping right into college I needed to take some time to get my eating disorder under control. I went back into treatment a couple of different times, and I gradually felt my mental health becoming more stable. I decided to enroll at my local community college, and I was anxious but also excited to start this new chapter. I felt like I would finally be focusing on something other than my eating disorder, and that was thrilling!

Unfortunately, that proved to be much easier said than done. After my first week of classes, I had a very intense panic attack. I realized that while I had a certificate that stated that I completed my high school equivalency, I still felt like a failure for not being able to do it in the traditional way. As I attempted to start college, I was afraid that I would fail again, so I withdrew from that term. I took that time to work on becoming even more stable in my recovery, and I tried to set myself up for success.

A few weeks later, I enrolled for the following term, and I told myself that I needed to stick with it. I reminded myself that I had a wonderful support system and was capable of handling this. After the first week of classes, I felt scared, but I didn’t want to give up. That’s when I realized that just because I currently felt stable in my recovery didn’t mean that I could guarantee that it would stay that way. Recovery has a lot of ups and downs, and I needed to learn how to deal with those while also dealing with other life tasks such as school.

I actually managed to do incredibly well at the community college, so I began looking towards my next step: transferring to a four-year college to finish my degree. After the long process of looking into various universities and then applying to my top six, I noticed a wave of anxiety and self-doubt. Even though all of these colleges would see that I had maintained a 4.0 GPA during community college, I was afraid that I would be judged for getting my GED, and as a result be denied. I was legitimately terrified that I would get a rejection letter from every single school, and once again feel like a failure because of my eating disorder.

To my complete surprise, I was actually accepted by every school! After thinking long and hard about my decision, I decided to transfer to North Carolina State University. I started at this wonderful school in August of 2017. Now that I am nearing the final weeks of my second semester, I have begun to reflect on these past several months.

Even though I genuinely believe that I am more stable in my recovery now, than ever before, the truth is that the past several months have been immensely difficult. There have been times when I was afraid that my struggles would turn into a downward spiral, and just keep unraveling. However, I reminded myself of how strong I am, how incredibly far I’ve come, and that it’s okay to ask for help. I also needed to remind myself that it is okay to still struggle sometimes, because that’s a part of recovery.

This entire process has taught me that there will never be a perfect time to go to school, to have a job, or to take on a significant life event, because where I’m at with my recovery is going to continue to change. Instead of trying to find the right timing, I need to continue to learn how to cope with my various mental illnesses while simultaneously balancing the other stressors in my life. My eating disorder may have been in control of me while I was in high school, but I refuse to let it hold that same power now that I am in college.

For recovery resources and treatment options, please visit our resource center. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call  ANAD’s Helpline at: (888) 375-7767 or the National Alliance of Eating Disorders Helpline at: (866) 662-1235.

If you are thinking about suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. In crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer from the Crisis Text Line.

Emily Locke is a college student, writer, and dancer. She is from Portland, OR but attends North Carolina State University, and plans to major in English with a creative writing concentration. She has battled mental illnesses from a young age, and as a result is very passionate about raising awareness for eating disorders, anxiety and depressive disorders, and promoting a positive body image. She is currently a NEDA column writer, and hopes to someday be a published author, and eating disorder activist. To read more of her writing and follow her journey, check out her blog.